How to untangle yourself from enmeshment
Healthy emotional and physical boundaries are the basis of healthy relationships. Enmeshed relationships, however, are sorely lacking boundaries.
What does it mean to be in an enmeshed relationship?
Individuals in enmeshed relationships depend on each other to make them feel good, whole or healthy, they depend on each other to "fulfill" their emotional needs.
These individuals have a hard time sensing, knowing or feeling this is who "I am" and that is who "you are"; they lose their individuality and get swept away by a compelling need to meet the other person's needs
Enmeshment is a description of a relationship between two or more people where personal boundaries are unclear. Often, this happens on an emotional level in which two people “feel” each other's emotions. One person may feel an emotion and almost immediately the others person takes on the same feeling, gets escalated and blends with that experience.
What causes two people to become enmeshed?
Enmeshment can come from different places. Sometimes parents become overly involved due to a situation that needed more involvement; a young trauma, living in a war zone, family illness or social issues in school. However, although the individual has grown up, the parents haven't stepped back.
What's much more common is the family patterns that have been "inherited" from previous generations. This is called "transgenerational patterns" that have been passed on from year to year. The two kinds of unhelpful boundaries are either 1) fluid, undifferentiated, permeable and enmeshed or, 2) overly rigid, disconnected and with neglectful limits. Both of these contribute to icky dynamics in relationships. Both create individuals who doubt their worth, who have a hard time setting limits and who struggle with a strong sense of self.
Typically people in enmeshed relationships have a hard time recognizing that they’re actually in an unhealthy relationship because acknowledging that means acknowledging that they have an issue. It means facing their emotional issues, which may trigger shame, guilt and anxiety.There is much liberation though, when making the choice and seeing reality for what it is.
What I find helpful is to look at the "cost-benefit analysis" when encouraging clients to look at choosing better relationships. I get how scary it can be to slowly begin to change something.
"How can I suddenly start acting differently?"
"I'm going to lose all my friends, or this one relationship is going to belly flop on me and I have no one else."
"I'm not sure I can do this right now, I'm not strong enough".
And at the same time there's this nagging feeing that something about what you've been doing hasn't been working for you. There's that gut telling you something isn't right. There are better relationships to be had.
Here are some signs that you may be involved in a relationship without boundaries;
- Neglect other relationships due to being preoccupied in this relationship.
- Your happiness or feeling of OK relies completely on this relationship.
- Your self-esteem is contingent upon this relationship.
- When there’s a conflict or disagreement in your relationship, you have unbearable anxiety, worry and a compulsion to fix the problem.
- When you’re not around this person or aren't in touch, you feeling incredibly lonely and you have a hard time just "being".
- There’s a “symbiotic emotional connection.” If they’re angry, anxious or depressed, you’re also angry, anxious or depressed. “You absorb those feelings and are drawn to remediate them.”
If you identify with any of the above, that's ok. The good news is identifying what isn't working so we can help you slowly create awareness, shifts and change slowly. Here are some tips below to get started.
Tips for Setting Boundaries
1. Get Support
It's so hard to change a pattern that has been unconsciously part of your life for so many years. It can also feel terrifying to imagine being or doing things differently. How can you do that? It may feel like you want to but have no clue how. Support and clinical insight and guidance can go a long way. Reach out to a supportive friend, a healthy mentor or a skilled therapist who understands this and can help you gain rich knowledge, challenge beliefs, creating necessary boundaries as well as helping you work though blockage that come up when wanting to integrate and practice healthy boundary setting.
2. Set SMALL boundaries.
Start practicing boundary-setting by creating small boundaries in your relationships. Do your best to state your boundary in a calm, gentle manner. The goal is to still respond to the person with respecting them and their needs while validating your own limits as well.
Also, notice if you get pulled into victim mode "Hey, stop saying that, you're making me feel unloved", or "You're stepping on my boundary, stop doing this to me, you're hurting me". Nope, you are not a victim, and engaging in this conversation keeps you stuck in the old pattern of shame, guilt and keeps you getting stepped on.
Stand up, no one can step on you if you aren't step-able on.
Set the limit.
Put on a nice gentle smile.
You got this.
3. Learn how to create Connections with YOURSELF and with OTHERS.
Practice being alone and spending time by yourself. Start learning about the ways to fill yourself up. To satiate your own needs. You can connect to yourself. You can get to know you and what you need and how to be with yourself. Prioritize self actualization and self care. You will slowly begin feeling stronger. One step at a time.
It's also super important to have others in your life. Reach out to others and begin engaging in healthier relationships by choosing healthier patterns. Be crystal clear on who you are, what you can and cannot do. People respect your limits when you set them with unshakable confidence. Go out for lunch, meet up with friends for coffee, join a local class or watch a movie locally.
4.Develop Your Own Passions:
Passions are necessary to defining who you are. Hobbies, passions and personal development are what separate you from anyone anyone else. You have your own wants and needs. Get involved in a local group, volunteer, get connected to something meaningful, find a class that excites you.
You'll learn and practice skills, and you'll begin to set emotional and physical boundaries. Over time you'll starting seeing your growth. You can do this yourself, or you may need some extra help. Reach out for support that will help foster healthy relationships, allow people in who will empower and strengthen you.
Set one goal for today. It's time to start feeling better, feeling like YOU!